Mad for Megapixels
High-end DSLRs are also a good barometer of features that will often migrate down into less expensive cameras. Case in point: Wi-Fi access on cameras. Several high-end professional-grade DSLR cameras allow users to connect to wireless home networks in order to quickly upload their pictures to computers. And while the feature has appeared in a limited way in some mid- to high-end consumer models, it's far from popular. "Wi-Fi is really not going anywhere yet," Haueter says. "But there's still a future for it."
One feature that's still popular with consumers is megapixels. Rightly or wrongly-and opinions vary on that-consumers are still equating higher numbers of pixels on a camera's imaging sensor with higher-quality pictures. Vendors, sensing opportunity and the ability to charge more, are happy to oblige. This year has seen the onset of compact consumer-grade cameras that can shoot pictures at resolutions of 12 megapixels. Sony, Casio, Panasonic (MC), and Kodak have all launched 12-megapixel cameras aimed at consumers. But there are pitfalls.
First there's the extra cost. The 12.1-megapixel Sony Cyber-shot W200 lists for $400; the W90, which is rated at 8.1 megapixels and has similar features, costs $300. The same goes for Casio's $400, 12.1-megapixel Exilim Zoom and its $300, 10.1-megapixel cousin.
Is it worth the extra $100 for an extra 4 million pixels? Probably not, experts say. "Most people don't need more than 6 or 8 megapixels, and manufacturers are doing them a disservice by telling them that they need more," says Katrin Eismann, chair of the digital photography department at New York's School of Visual Arts.
There are other trade-offs. The more pictures, the bigger the file size of the picture. In turn, the bigger the file size, the faster your memory card fills up. It also takes longer for the camera to save the file to the card, meaning a longer lag time between shots. Finally, the pictures will take up more space on your PC's hard drive.
However, professionals are certainly just as eager as consumers to get all the pixels they can. On Aug. 19, Canon unveiled its latest high-end DSLR camera, the EOS 1Ds-Mark III, a 21.1-megapixel monster that will set its owners back a cool $8,000.
One thing is certain: All these digital cameras are being used a lot. InfoTrends reckons that 45 billion pictures will be taken in the U.S. this year. But of those, only 15.2 million, or about one-third of one percent, will ever be printed. Such is the state of photography in the Digital Age